By Khopolo Mokone

Maseru, Jan 30 (The Night’s Watch) – The United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council has urged the government of Lesotho to adopt norms that will guarantee to LGBTI persons the full enjoyment of their rights and called for an end to discrimination against homosexuals.

In Lesotho, people are still under attack for who they love, how they dress, and ultimately for who they are.

Being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI) in this country means living with daily discrimination.

From name-calling and bullying, to being denied a job or appropriate healthcare, the range of unequal treatment faced is extensive and damaging. It can also be life-threatening.

LGBTI advocates in Lesotho risk their own personal safety to call out abuses of the human rights of LGBTI people, and that is probably why the UN Human Rights Council has decided to come to their aid.

The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the UN system made up of 47 states responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe.

It has the ability to discuss all thematic human rights issues and situations that require its attention throughout the year.

It meets at the UN Office at Geneva.

The Night’s Watch has seen a copy of the draft report of the Council’s Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review on Lesotho that was conducted on January 22.

The Universal Periodic Review – a unique instrument which involves a review of the human rights records of all UN Member States – takes place at UN Geneva every five years.

The draft report on the Universal Periodic Review on Lesotho recommended that the government of Lesotho should “adopt norms that will guarantee to LGBTI persons, the full enjoyment of their rights on the basis of equality in all spheres, combatting discrimination and negative stereotypes that still exist in the society”.

This comes about four months after the local rights group, Transformation Resource Centre (TRC), called on government to enact laws that would allow legal marriages between same-sex couples and permit adoption and fostering of children by gay couples.

Lesotho does not recognise same-sex marriages or civil unions, nor does it ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Marriage in the country is governed by customary law and common law, both of them exclude same-sex marriage.

The common law aspect of marriage, also known as a civil marriage is governed by the Marriage Act no. 10 of 1974.

Same-sex activity was legalized in 2012.

Male same-sex activity had previously been illegal in the country as a common law offence, but had not been enforced except where it was non-consensual.

“While the constitution of Lesotho lists prohibited grounds of discrimination, the list does not include sexual orientation,” TRC said in its 2019 Shadow Report on Human Rights: Situation in the Kingdom of Lesotho Under the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights published in October last year.

“Over and above this, there is also no legislative framework for protection of the rights of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersexed (LGBTI) people and other sexual minorities.

“This omission leads to discrimination of various forms including denial of access to healthcare services, targeted assaults by the police, non-recognition of their unions as lawful marriages and their prohibition to adopt children,” TRC added.

The TRC report also cited a raft of human rights violations in the country, proposed changes in a tranche of statutes and encouraged bold decision to scrap some laws altogether.

According to the report, discrimination in accessing healthcare services has led to high prevalence of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) amongst the LGBTI community and “spread of such in the entire country”.

The report indicated that there was also discrimination against “inter-sexed children whom at birth, are subjected to sex-reassigning” which leads to a number of complications at a later stage.

“Due to lack of legal protection, LGBTIs are also direct victims of domestic violence, denial of rights within their families, social exclusion and being forced into conventional marriages and initiation schools amongst others,” the report read.

“The LGBTI community is challenged with hindrance on the right to freedom of expression. They are unable to express their gender; they have challenges of cross dressing and recognising their gender identity.

“TRC notes that the LGBTI community is unable to express itself and thus suffer the social exclusion; and still Lesotho has not announced its stance on the LGBTI community,” it added. NW

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